SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- After dropping the first 2 games and trailing 23-17 in the third game, the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific certainly seemed headed to a humbling 3-game road defeat to No. 7-ranked Point Loma Nazarene. Cougar head coach Chris Keife had something different in mind.
Keife called a timeout to regroup a Cougar squad that had squandered leads in each of the first 3 games, including a 13-11 advantage in the third game that preceded a 12-4 Point Loma Nazarene run leading into the timeout. Whatever Keife told his players must have worked, because the Cougars responded with a shocking 13-4 rally and subsequent 5-game road win over the Sea Lions, 29-31, 27-30, 30-27, 30-27, 15-13. The victory was the 100th career win for Keife, who is in his fifth season as a collegiate head coach.
“During the timeout, I just told the girls, ‘You’re going to do it here, and you’re going to work on getting 3 points in a row, then doing it again,’ ” said Keife. “We had to do a better job at serving, and we stepped it up.”
Junior Megan Burch got a kill for the Cougar sideout, then served an ace, and sophomore Jill Baker notched back-to-back kills to cut the deficit to 23-21 to force a Point Loma Nazarene timeout. Senior Brianne Huff got into the action, registering another kill to set up freshman Leanne Stennett’s service ace that brought the Cougars to within a point at 25-24.
After a Cougar service error, Azusa Pacific reeled off 6 of the game’s final 7 points to stay alive in the match, with Burch, sophomore Tara Chambers and Huff recording kills to close out the game.
“We had several players step up in a big way for us tonight,” said Keife. “Brianne, Megan, and Leanne all did a phenomenal job helping us when we were down.”
Point Loma Nazarene seemed shaken, committing 5 errors at the start of the fourth game that helped spot Azusa Pacific to an 8-2 lead, and the Cougars never trailed in a 30-27 win that evened the match at 2 games apiece.
The Cougars surrendered 4 straight kills to start the fifth game in a 4-0 hole, but Keife called another timeout to rally the troops. The Cougars scored 7 of the next 8 points to take a 7-5 lead, thanks in part to 3 Baker kills. Azusa Pacific never trailed again, although the Sea Lions answered with a kill and a block to even the game at 7-7. The Cougars again turned to Huff, and the senior captain responded with a kill that sparked a 6-2 run that ran the lead to 13-9. The Sea Lions made 1 last 3-point run, pulling to within 13-12, but Keife called another timeout, and Baker got the last 2 Cougar kills to side out and post the 15-13 win that sealed the match.
Baker finished with a match-high 29 kills, committing just 5 errors in 72 attempts for a .333 hitting percentage. She also collected 27 digs and team-highs of 5 blocks and 3 aces. Huff finished with 15 kills, including 14 over the final 3 games, and Burch also tallied 15 kills for the Cougars, despite sitting out the opening game of the match. Senior libero Alison Pattison registered a team-high 28 digs, and junior setter Allison Kincheloe finished with 72 assists and 12 digs.
Point Loma Nazarene’s Melissa Boer and Zoe Beltz combined for 39 kills, but no other Sea Lions finished in double figures in kills. Natalie Acklin tied a Point Loma Nazarene record with 13 blocks, and Jill Konderik collected a match-high 36 digs for the Sea Lions.
The victory was Azusa Pacific’s first win in a 5-game match this season, with all 4 of the Cougars’ losses coming in 5-game fashion. Three of the 4 defeats have come at the hands of the NAIA’s top 3-ranked teams.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-4 overall, 5-3 in GSAC play, while Point Loma Nazarene drops to 10-6 overall, 3-5 in conference play. The Cougars are on the road for yet another difficult road test, a Tuesday, Oct. 2 visit to No. 5-ranked Biola.